Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Dash that was

The Road to Nam is long...and straight.

The last training ride, Sandra, Adino, Kim, Kosima

The day finally dawned, with everything planned, prepped, cleaned, serviced, packed, checked, if it was our last chance. Even re-doing a friend's "homeless choobless" setup, adding a bigger safety margin.

From this... this. Don't cut that tube too close.
 The forecast said 30 degrees with a gentle breeze in our faces for the climb up to the top of Kupferberg, but at the start it was clear that 30 degrees was optimistic. Four hundred-odd riders can huddle into a small patch of shade when they need to.

Michelle pretending 
Michelle, our backup driver did a sterling job. Thank you Michelle for your calm, collected handling of your team. We might just snap you up again unless some young buck gets in ahead of us ;)

There was none of the usual pre-event stressing and hassling over loose ends, they were all taken care of. Which left us to do our thing without excuses.

Kim and Kosima : Brave faces indeed!

Up the hill in the heat is something we've done before, but usually at a more relaxed (read "lazy") training pace. At one stage I was convinced that my heart rate monitor was malfunctioning, and then it dawned on me that the combination of heat, race tension and the hill was pushing me harder than I'd planned. Looking back on it, this is where the intervals helped enormously. (Dankie Maryke!)

I was hugely surprised to find that we were at the top of the hill an hour faster than our (admittedly conservative) schedule. In my rush to hit my first long stage, I forgot to drink the first bottle of recovery mix. Too bad.

Sandra at the end of the first stage

On stage 2
Overlooking the Kuiseb at sunset
The next 70km stretch was a grind, with the wind making everything harder, but at least blowing the dust away.

Near the top of the Us Pass is the memorial to Nico van der Merwe, who died of a heart attack while taking part in the 2006 Dash. It's a sober reminder to those of us with heart rate monitors heading for the double century mark. I stopped here briefly just as the sun was setting .

Don't be fooled, the downhills of the Us Pass are not the end of the stage, there are a "few" hills before that very welcome sight suddenly meets you at the Kuiseb Bridge. My time was somewhere under 4hrs (completely forgot to push the buttons on the BiPolar)

Sandra set off on the stage to Khomas Safaris, by the time we passed her, she was well into the stage. This is a difficult one, primarily because of the hills and the dust caused by backup vehicles (and the lack of wind to blow the dust away). Michelle and I arrived at Khomas in good time, ate, rested, drank coffee and even tried to sleep. I had set my alarm for 01:30, but fortunately woke up at 12:45 and rode up to the check-in. Sandra had finished minutes earlier, much earlier than planned, so our timing was perfect.
Bloedkopje in the sober light of day

Khomas to Bloedkopje. This was the stage I had been fearing. How would I cope with the next 70km, having just done 100km hard km? Greatly helped by Sandra's earlier than planned finish, I set off on the long downhill which is the start of this stage. Thanks to a route change, we only had to share the road with cars for the first 13km, after that it was just the odd light up front and a few far behind. This was classic night riding (no idea of speed or distance, I just put my head down and hammered). The short detour past the Ganab water point was another welcome addition to the route.
Before long it was the lights of the checkpoint, again in way less time than we'd expected. ( I guess riding in the dark I'm not tempted to stop and sightsee ;) 70km in 3hrs.

Sandra set off on the dreaded stage to the Old Power Station. Dreaded because it was another route change which involved getting off the road and onto a 4x4 track and then onto the pipeline service track. In this part of the world that means one thing. SAND. Fortunately it was dark and then heavily misty, making conditions better/less bad than expected. By the time Sandra finished this she was still smiling, but I think only just. Not bad at all because I saw and heard some large-mouth men whining like stuck pigs about not being allowed to ride on the nearby tar road. Form, gentlemen, form.(South Africans often have skewed ideas about what mountain-biking means ). Go big or go home these same guys often say.....

The morning after.
The Pipeline Track that caused  all the fuss
From there it was the short "team-building" hop to Swakopmund and the finish. The finish and those 500ml Windhoek Tafels.

At this point it's fitting to stop and think of the people who make this all possible. The organisers (Aiden, JC and the rest of the team), all the admin people, the people who run the water points, the marshalls. The sponsors, the traffic department, everyone who contributes to an event that is so well run. I sometimes feel that the people who make this kind of event happen don't know quite how much they are appreciated. The person who took my bike from me at the Ganab waterpoint at about 2am with the words "Let me take your bike, get yourself something to eat and drink"
People who put months of hard work into something that's all over in 24hrs (well, the race is, their work goes on long afterwards).
As with any event of this nature, it's the organisers, the workers and the volunteers who are the thread that keeps it all together. "Thank you" seems inadequate.
Know that what you do is highly appreciated by so many. Know that for sure.

Highlights for me...
  • a handmade, personalised finisher's medal for solo finishers and a handmade, personalised "dog tag" for the two and four person team finishers.
  • the fact that Sandra and I were the first (and only) mixed masters team.

Lessons learned?
  • Get fit (I did 13 solid weeks of intervals, even more next time)
  • Plan the ride, ride the plan (Know what to do when, it's much less stressful that way)
  • Have fun, that's why we're here in the first place.

And yes, of course DC was there.

My BiPolar Heart Rate Monitor says....


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This is not "the next post"... that will be next week.

It's a link to Kent's blog.

Good reading from a man who knows a thing or two. Kent has been a source of inspiration for me.

The Impending

For some months now, the primary current in my life has been the Desert Dash. Now that the 16th of December is a few days away, the current has become a torrent, all the mental and physical preparation is coming to a head.

Last year I was the back-up for the Desert Vixens, an experience which convinced me to do it myself. The thought of doing it on my singlespeed GT Peace 9r was a bit daunting, so that in turn set in motion the process which became the "The GoldenBike". That's a Niner S.I.R. with a carefully thought out, tight-budget build and a setup which is an exact replica of the Peace. (Mary Bars, Ergon grips, Murray Orthoped sadlle, Thudbuster seatpost, tubeless).

Then of course came the main bit, getting properly fit so that the Dash would stand a fair chance of being an enjoyable event rather than a bad memory. Is it wrong to go into an intensive interval training programme in order to avoid shitting off in the race? Maybe, but it worked for me. Sixteen weeks ago I got hold of Maryke Verster (more on this later) to work out a training programme for me. I supplied her with the necessary info and she provided the interval training programme, six days a week, on average 7-9 hours per week.....

In the first four weeks I lost 4kg without even noticing it (not that weight-loss was a priority, just a nice to have, but that in itself is a story, I guess)
Maryke had me sussed, the programme was just hard enough to make me work, but not so hard that I felt like ducking out. So it started, day in and day out, hour long interval sessions with longer weekend rides. Sometimes freezing cold, often windy, rainy (when in Tokai) but always enjoyable, the rides just seemed to get better and better.

It wasn't long before I began to notice a difference, feeling better, sleeping better, even eating better. No more desire to eat junk or to gorge after a hard ride. I attribute this to eating properly before rides and exercising within managed ranges.

There have been some memorable rides (into the howling south wind, icy cold winter mornings, and more recently heat). Certainly one that sticks out is the 118km night ride that Sandra, Jan and I did about a month ago. With some careful planning based on weather forecasts, we hammered a fast ride in a time that surprised us. (That was also the night I learned, not for the first time, the effects of badly designed padding in cycling shorts). Maybe someone will one day explain why (in this case, Cape Storm) put the crease in the padding directly under one's seat bones. That night I heard the distant voice of Graeme Murray, saying not so politely that I should be riding in un-padded shorts. So I have gone back down the unpadded shorts route again.

Now if only I could get the same sorted out for my feet. I have wide feet, like many, but cycling shoes generally seem to made for long skinny European feet. Not Nike, not Shimano, not Olympic. Once there was a Sidi that worked OK. This is all leading me to a more dialled setup which may just include platform pedals and comfortable trail shoes. (And NO, I do not wish to engage in the "clips are better debate", but thanks for offering anyway ;)  At my elevated level of cycling, clips have one huge advantage...they keep me attached to the bike......and help me feel more secure. I guess that's a bit like over-tightening ski-bindings and doesn't help one develop technique.The Peace already has platforms, and I must admit I really like that feel. This option will be investigated after the Dash.

Back to the Dash, we are now into the last few days of the taper phase of our training, in fact only two gentle rides left. Now it's into the final preparation and detail planning (food, drinks, and mechanical ). I have had to deal with a fair whack of pre-race "just in case" replacements and also some unacceptable ones.
New chains and cassettes and in my case a new headset. (FSA= Full Speed Ahead into the recycling bin). Sandra's fork (which caused drama by packing up just before last year's Dash, did so again this year)
Many thanks to Damien at Cycle Wholesale for the prompt, professional response and the loan of a Fox fork.
Support your lbs and they'll return the favour.

The race works like this:

Sandra and I start in Windhoek in an expected 29 degrees Celsius and a headwind of 20kmh up the Kupferberg hill to an altitude of 2000m. (35km). Thanks   Maybe we didn't need to know that!
At the end of this stage, Sandra gets into the support vehicle and I ride on to the Kuiseb bridge (70km). When I get to the Kuiseb bridge, Sandra rides the next stage to Khomas Safaris (70km) while I get moved to the end of the stage.
From Khomas, I ride on to Bloedkopje (70km) where Sandra takes over for the stage to the Old Power Station (70km). Here I join her and we ride together into Swakopmund. To the finish.(35km)
That all needs to be done in under 24hours to qualify as a finish.

Reading between the lines you can see there's lots that can happen, so we are getting ourselves well organised. The idea is to enjoy the ride, not to struggle as a result of bad planning.

Hence the meticulous attention to mechanical detail, no chances, no shortcuts. Not even any tiny irritating squeaks on the bike. Lights, back-up lights, reflectors, spares, ........

Meals cooked, packed and ready to be eaten at the end of our stages. Bicycle juices (Hammer Perpetuem and USN Recover Max) in bottles, just add water.
Stuff to wash yourself with.
Warm clothes(it can get cold in the desert in thesmall hours of the morning!)

This afternoon is the second last pre-Dash ride, a gentle taper ride with full kit. Batteries charged, ready to roll.

The next post could just be interesting.